'Everyone thinks Stockport is posh - but on this street shoplifting is constant'

Castle Street in Edgeley, Stockport -Credit:Manchester Evening News
Castle Street in Edgeley, Stockport -Credit:Manchester Evening News

The shopkeepers on Castle Street in Edgeley have a WhatsApp group they use to alert each other to shoplifters. It's a very active chat.

"It pings all the time," says one newsagent, as he flips his phone over to show a picture of a suspected thief he says has been spotted in the Co-op.

Britain is in the midst of the shoplifting epidemic. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that shoplifting increased by 37% in England and Wales last year, rising from around 315,000 crimes in 2022 to a record 430,000 offences.

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In Stockport the increase was even higher - with thefts up a staggering 54% year-on-year.

Wajid Jan runs Edgeley Discount Store on Castle Street. "We opened in 2011 and it's [shoplifting] never stopped," he said. "It's constant. Every day."

As an independent business owner during the cost-of-living crisis, Wajid says he is already feeling the pinch. And the regular thefts just add to the pain.

"We [the shopkeepers and staff] keep an eye out for each other but it feels like nobody cares," he said

Wajid Jan -Credit:Staff
Wajid Jan -Credit:Staff

"This is my business. I am not a big branch where the manager sits in the office. We're struggling. Rent is going up, VAT, business rates. I make 20p-30p on each thing we sell.

"Everybody thinks this is a commercial area because Stockport is posh, but there are no posh people here. It's a very hard time.

"Some people are stealing for drugs, but I don't blame everyone. The price of everything is going up. Some people are genuinely struggling- I don't blame them for stealing."

Following the release of the figures the British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) called for more to be done to protect retailers, shoppers, and shop workers. "The latest ONS crime figures paint a troubling picture for independent retailers and businesses across the UK," said Bira's marketing director, John Halliday.

"The 37% increase in shoplifting highlights the significant challenges faced by our sector. Retail crime not only inflicts financial losses but also poses a grave threat to the safety and well-being of shop staff and customers.

"It's imperative that urgent action is taken to address this concerning trend and ensure the security of both businesses and their employees and customers. Bira has been trying to tackle this issue for a long time and will continue to work with the Home Office and police forces to better protect businesses, their owners, and people who work in the shop."

But change could be coming. Last month Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer promised retail workers he will crack down on crime and reverse what he called a 'Shoplifter's Charter' that means shoplifting of goods under £200 is not investigated.

"If Labour takes power, we won't stand by while crime takes over our streets," he told the Usdaw trade union's national conference. "We'll put 13,000 extra neighbourhood police on the beat, tackling crime on your streets.

"We'll scrap the Shoplifter's Charter – the £200 rule that stops the police investigating theft in your workplace. And we will legislate to make sure assaulting and abusing shopworkers is a standalone criminal offence because you deserve to feel safe at work."

Castle Street, Edgeley -Credit:Manchester Evening News
Castle Street, Edgeley -Credit:Manchester Evening News

Back on Castle Street shopkeepers remain sceptical. Mazhar Saleem, manager at Pound Express, said the store was often targeted by groups of children. "I've blocked off the entrance to the counter because they kept trying to get back here," he said.

"You can't say anything to them, because if you do I am doing wrong. This is small shop. My boss can't afford for two people to work here."

Another shopkeeper, who asked not to be named, said: "The problem is there is no police presence. The criminals are just laughing at them.

"They just walk in blatant and there's nothing anyone can do. There's lads riding up and down on e-scooters (ballied up (wearing balaclavas or ski masks) like they're going to rob a bank.

"The last time it happened here was Christmas. They grabbed something from outside. I didn't bother reporting it - it's pointless. They're never going to get rid of it."

But the authorities in Stockport say they are taking action and getting results. A new town centre police base, funded by Stockport's Business Improvement District, opened in March, while many town centre shops have radios with which they can report thefts.

In December it was revealed police officers were disguising themselves as shoppers and shop workers in town centre stores and supermarkets in a bid to catch thieves.

Sgt James Senior in Stockport's Sports Direct -Credit:Greater Manchester Police (GMP)
Sgt James Senior in Stockport's Sports Direct -Credit:Greater Manchester Police (GMP)

At the same time GMP say arrests for shoplifting in the borough were up by 56% on the past 12 months, while charges were also up by 51%. Speaking at the time Stockport's Chief Insp John Picton said: "Theft offences including shoplifting are a priority for the district, the teams work together with a 'can do' attitude, arresting and prosecuting offenders.

"Theft and associated ASB is not tolerated in Stockport - it causes harm to our community, we are relentless in our pursuit of criminals."

Across Greater Manchester shoplifting has gone up by 13% over the last year, increasing from around 15,700 crimes in 2022 to almost 18,000 offences. Every borough bar Rochdale, where the figures were unchanged, saw an increase in the number of reports.

In a statement this week Insp Arron Cooper said: "Across the force, officers take shoplifting extremely seriously, and where there is evidence of an increase in incidents, local teams will work closely with stores to tackle the issue and assess the best ways in which to do that.

"Across the force, each district now has a designated single point of contact – all at inspector level – and who regularly meet each other to discuss best practice and share advice on what they find effective in their respective areas.

"Every team will do what they can to liaise with store workers and security, and to provide support on problems raised, from aggressive customers to shoplifters. This includes sharing CCTV, being on the same radio system, and having regular meetings with stores.

"While we will always seek to find the most appropriate outcome following a report of shoplifting, we do lots of work to find out why people are choosing to shoplift in the first place. This includes working with charities, partners and health agencies to help people get the support they need and steer them away from criminality."